Breaking Through Mainstream with Fashion’s Harlem Row

By Shea Zaphir

Fashion Pioneer Lois K. Alexander believed in her destiny and she believed in revealing the truth of America’s history of fashion that includes endless designers of color. As an educated seamstress with a masters degree during the civil rights movement, Lois understood firsthand what it was like to be on the frontlines of the battle for diversity within the fashion industry when she established the Harlem Institute of Fashion and the Black Fashion Museum in the late 1960’s. Alexander knew the importance of highlighting the unheralded designers of color and creating a safe space for others to learn and become inspired by that ignored history. In 1981 during an interview by the Washington Post she revealed the truth of her journey stating that, “In the process we discovered that few Americans — black or white — are aware of the contributions made by black Americans in the creative fields of fashion. There is an oft-quoted myth that black people are ‘new-found talent’ in the fashion field and we want to change that.” The principles of Alexander’s dream and accomplishments have laid the foundation for many organizations to date. Harlem’s Fashion Row is an that, like Alexander, have dedicated their fundamentals to the development of an equal platform of mainstream exposure for designers of color.

This season’s Spring 2014 NYFW marked 6 years in the making of HFR’s fashion movement and many accomplishments along that journey. For what started out as a self-proclaimed calling for an unlikely candidate, Brandice Henderson-Daniel ventured into the world of fashion show production after being sought after to produce a show for a colleague. The unpredictable excitement of backstage operations, last minute details, and seeing the designer’s creative process proved way more than she could ever imagine. After seeing a fashion show in Brooklyn, the Memphis native decided that Harlem was the perfect place to host fashion presentations. With just 20 volunteers, a big vision, and a list of major contacts HFR became a hit with its first presentation in 2007 becoming a symbolic wave maker for underrepresented designers of color.

In the last few months, HFR has featured their conversations segment alongside acclaimed style maven June Ambrose, produced their first ever February fashion presentation at the world famous Apollo Theater partnered Smart Water, received the Innovator Award from Adcolor, been featured in Paper Magazine, and produced 3 fashion shows at this year’s Essence Music Festival. Their advisory board consists of fashion industry leaders Audrey Smaltz, Terri Williams, Spencer Means, Zandile Blay and others.

This season the HFR team hosted a week of exclusive events leading up to their highly anticipated fashion presentation at the Jazz at Lincoln Center.  The week began with the Blogger Breakfast presented by Iman Cosmetics and Shea Moisture alongside a panel of influential Style and Beauty Bloggers at Trump International’s Jean Georges restaurant.

HFR and Renaissance Hotel partnered to host the Editors Luncheon that introduced the 2014 designer collections. Kimberly Goldson, Sandro Romans, Kahindo Mateene, and Deidre Jeffries all gave the editors a sneak peak of what to expect on the runway.

HFR featured 12 designers of color in the Times Square Renaissance Hotel Pop Up Shop. The designers displayed their creations and curated spaces based on their preferred aesthetic. Over 400 guests attended the event as DJ Kiss managed the sounds of the night.

HFR’s corporate sponsers Smartwater, and Dark and Lovely presented the Spring ’14 collections of Kimberly Goldson, Sandro Romans, Espion, and Modahnik at the Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Among the audience of tastemakers and notables were fashion maven Audrey Smaltz, actress Elise Neal, lifestyle expert Harriette Cole, and fashion writer Julee Wilson.  BET CEO Debra Lee was seated in the front row alongside, actor Leon Preston Robinson IV, reality stars Miss Lawrence and Tami Roman, even Vanessa Williams’ daughter appeared to show their support.

The HFR movement is one of few organizations committed to changing the state of diversity for designers of color. Each design house chosen by HFR is essentially mentored to create collaborative partnerships that support the overall progression of American fashion as an international industry. The culmination of the entire week of events was developed to promote and improve the public’s awareness of fashion arts through designers of color. Their position as an organization is to demand that the fashion industry acknowledge designers of color as a branch of American art, history, and culture just as Lois K. Alexander did. Future goals for HFR consist of working with designers and industry leaders to create revenue avenues that will empower each designer to sell their collections in stores and online. CEO of Harriet Cole media stated, “It’s one thing to dream of being a fashion designer and quite another to establish a fashion company successfully. HFR supports and guides designers to make their dreams come true.”  Like the “Diversity Coalition”, Lois K Alexander, and HFR all of these movements were started out of a simple idea of presenting the beautifully talented creative minds behind one of the world’s greatest obsession which is fashion and they are continuing the unfinished business of regulating mainstream media for designers of color.

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